Workhorse, established in 2007 as a developmental-stage vehicle electrification company that manufactured battery-electric powered two-seat roadsters, has unveiled the SureFly, a personal helicopter/vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft designed for “safe and easy flight.”
Featuring eight independent motors, each of which drive a single carbon fiber propeller, a backup battery power system, and a ballistic parachute that enables safe landing in emergency situations, the SureFly offers unequaled safety for a personal aircraft.
The SureFly, which is still undergoing FAA testing, was recently discussed by CEO Steve Burns in New York, where he also talked about the company’s the electric pickup truck, the W-15. Workhorse is also working on electric delivery vans with a drone-based delivery system integrated into the roof.
In regards to the SureFly, Burns said, “It’s our skill set. It’s batteries. Batteries are the key. It’s a hybrid, which most of our trucks are. It’s motor control, it’s rare earth lightweight magnetic motors. And we’ve learned to fly with the HorseFly drone, so it’s all the skill sets we have. It’s carbon fiber, which most of the vehicles we’re making these days have carbon fiber in them somewhere. We didn’t have to go out and get a whole new team. We built it with the existing team.”
The SureFly can achieve much more flight time than all-battery helicopters, which usually max out at about 20 minutes. The SureFly, on the other hand, can stay airborne for approximately an hour. The electric power system enables the helicopter to dispense with a large central blade and tail rotors by adding a drone-like configuration of four arms with two counter-rotating propellers.
According to Burns, the onboard electronics in the helicopter control the propellers individually, allowing thousands of adjustments per second, enabling the SureFly to remain stable even when it has a pilot on one side and no passenger on the other. The configuration also affords redundancy, allowing the SureFly to fly even after losing one propeller per arm.
The counter-rotation also cancels out the forces generated by the rotating blades, eliminating the need for a tail rotor, which cuts overall energy use by up to 20 percent. To rotate horizontally, the controllers simply decrease the speed of one set of blades and increase the other, which generates forces that rotate the SureFly.
The cockpit features simply seats, a control stick, and a tablet, which keep the SureFly under 1,700 lbs, which allows for 400 lbs of payload, either people or baggage.